Manila Times/ Manila
Social Watch Philippines (SWP), a citizens’ watchdog, urged senators to enact a good sin tax law to further increase the tax on cigarettes by P60 per pack.
Ma. Victoria Raquiza, SWP spokesman, said while they welcomed reports that senators have finally agreed to pass the Sin Tax Bill before the current 17th Congress closes on June 7, there remains unfinished work.
“Even before the start of the 2019 elections, various Senate bills to increase taxes on tobacco have been languishing for over a year in the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, particularly, those of Sen. Jose Victor “JV” Ejercito (at P90 per pack), Sen (Sherwin) Gatchalian (at P70 per pack) and Sen.(Emmanuel) Pacquiao (at P60 per pack),” said Raquiza in a statement.
The group is seeking to increase the tax on cigarettes by P60 per pack and a 9% annual incremental increase thereafter.
According to SWP, the legislators of the 17th Congress would be remembered as champions of the people’s health if they pass a good sin tax law, one that “taxes tobacco to the max.”
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri disclosed on Wednesday that all the senators have agreed to do their best to pass the Sin Tax Bill during the remaining session days of the 17th Congress.
He said the decision was reached after senators met with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd who reiterated the need for additional funding for the Universal Health Care (UHC) programme.
Zubiri said that sponsorship of the measure would start tomorrow. SWP said the reasons for further raising taxes on cigarettes are well-established, citing studies that showed there are over 100,000 smoking-related deaths in the country a year. This means 12 Filipinos die every hour due to tobacco-related diseases.
Largely due to the 2012 Sin Tax Law, smoking prevalence among Filipino adults went down by almost 8% points from 2008 to 2015 and mainly due to the prevention of new smokers mostly among people sensitive to price levels — the poor, rural folk, youth and the elderly.
Health authorities, however, noted that in recent years, with the relative rise in incomes in certain sections of the population, and the slow increase in “sin” taxes, smoking is once again on the rise, thereby reversing the gains of the original excise tax increase in 2012.
SWP also believes that the comprehensive and effective implementation of the UHC Law will be significantly hampered due to lack of funds.
According to the Department of Finance, P258bn is needed for the UHC, but the government, along with the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, can only raise P195bn. This means a funding shortfall of P63bn. If the sin tax bill is passed, whether from P60 (P30.1bn) or P90/pack (P25.1bn), the government would be able to cut the funding shortfall for UHC by about one half, the group said.
The additional funding would be used to increase the salaries of health care workers, strengthen primary care services and expand PhilHealth insurance coverage and benefits.
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